More TV Channels - No Monthly Bill (Review: Antennas Direct DB8e)

Tuesday, May 28
By Ed




Are you sick of your huge monthly cable or satellite bill? 

We were.  We "cut the cord" and there's been no looking back.  TV Antennas are not what they used to be.  We got our first digital antenna 5 years ago, and the technology continues to get better.

We've written before about our experience with Over the Air "Antenna" TV.  It's amazing: legal and free broadcast of High Definition signals.  Have you got a modern flat-screen TV in your living room?  It's pretty likely you can pick up channels this very minute. 

Until now, we've only provided limited discussion about what equipment is actually out there. This spring, Antennas Direct released their DB8e which claims reception of 70+ miles (without an amplifier), so this seemed like a great time to talk about gear.  We were given a DB8e to give an unbiased review for our readers.

The DB8e features a design that many Canadians (and other folks, too) will appreciate: the ability to aim separate parts of the antenna independently. This means you can aim the antenna toward many signals at once (i.e. pick up more channels for free).  Since Canada is a place where we either live a long ways away from our signal sources or we live in a location with two separate sources, you can see why these features would be a selling point.

How did it do? Let's check it out.
 

Most stuff I read online about digital antennas are written for people like me.  You know, full of jargon and data.  Yeah, I'm talking about Geeks. But regular families can benefit from ditching their monthly TV bill and using an antenna - just no one is writing for normal people.  This post won't be like that (i.e. Robin will heavily edit my geek-speak into something that makes sense).

My goal is to try and keep it simple and show you what this product can do in real-world conditions.  My benchmarks for for this review will be how well my current channels are improved and what additional channels I can receive with the DB8e. 


First, some disclaimers and disclosure.
  • Antenna signal reception can be as varied as the weather. In fact, the weather itself is often the cause of this variation. I tested the DB8e in a week's worth of Canadian spring weather, which saw beautiful warm, sunny clear days and a couple days of wind, rain, snow, hail and general awfulness. I am located about halfway up a hill, with trees and other, distant hills between me and the signals I am trying to receive. In short, I tested it in some real-world, "best-" and "worst-case" scenarios. What I saw should be repeatable by you, but since every house is a little different, your reception will be unique to you.

  • Secondly, Antennas Direct, in partnership with their Canadian distributor Save and Replay provided my review model of the DB8e.  They have not provided me with my opinion.  I have been even handed and honest in the following review. 

  • Finally, I am comparing this antenna to an already top-of-the line system (combing a mini-state we purchased nearly a decade ago with a 5 year old Channel Master 4228HD and amplifier).  All told, my old system cost us over $400. The Antennas Direct DB8e is half that.

The great big box the DB8e arrives in. 70 mile Range? - lets find out.


So here goes:


Frugal Review: Antennas Direct DB8e

Overview:



Great Assembly/Build Quality.
I was surprised at how much the box weighed and when I opened it, I could see why. The DB8e was clearly a better constructed product than my current Channel Master 4228HD (which, itself has held up well).

My old 4228HD came assembled and has a very lightweight connection for your cable run. Nothing about the DB8e is lightweight. It survived wind tunnel testing at speeds above what constitutes a hurricane. It does take some assembly time, though. The instructions were a clear, one sheet page that I was easily able to follow. Those wanting more could check out the ultra-detailed unboxing from Solid Signal.

This is how it comes out of the box. You'll need a screwdriver, a wrench and maybe 30 minutes to assemble.


I timed myself and even with the breaks to take photos, I was done in 30 minutes.

When assembled, each side section moves and can be aimed independently. Once aimed, you tighten a couple nuts on each side and lock them in place. I left mine at hand tighten till I was sure where I wanted it pointing.

As a Canadian, I was happy to see screws that could be driven with a Robertson screwdriver. Is this actually valuable information? Not really, we just like Robertson screws. Did I mention we're kinda dorky.



Mounting/Testing.
Because of the physical size and weight of the DB8e, I would suggest fitting it to the mounting bracket/mast on the ground. The antenna mounting brackets do provide for a fairly easy attachment to an existing mast, but I still wished I could've attached mine while standing on the ground.

Assembled and ready for testing.

I mentioned in our last post that putting up an antenna means working up high; if that isn't in your skill set, find a helper or hire a pro.

Once mounted, I tried the following tests to see how it stacked up to my current arrangement:
  • DB8e solo (only a 50 foot run of cable and plug into the TV): cost ~$220
  • DB8e through my existing amplifier: cost ~ $300
  • DB8e combined with amplifier and Mini-State ~ $500

The old and the new; my combo system on the left and the DB8e on the right.


I tested on both Sony and Samsung TVs. (I find my older Sony has a better antenna tuner in it than the Samsung, but I wanted two TV tests for comparisons sake.)



Priced at $199 USD/ $209 CAD. 

By allowing you to point in two different directions with one antenna, Antennas Direct is saving you the cost (at least $100) of buying an antenna rotator (or rotor). The DB8e's range (more on this in a moment) also might mean you won't need a signal amplifier (another piece of pricy gear).

So even though it is among the more costly antennas out there, it may end up costing you less in the long run.  We've already discussed how much cable costs; even with a high up-front price this antenna likely pays for itself in under 6 months of use.



My Test Results:
  • The DB8e, all by itself, performed better than advertised. I was able to receive signals from Toronto (50 miles) and Buffalo (85 miles) as well as a nearby VHF broadcast that was coming in 90 degrees to the side of the direction I was aiming. These signals were not as strong as how my current set-up received them, but I was using equipment that cost $300 less, so not really an "Apples to Apples" comparison.

  • Running the DB8e through my amplifier produced even better results. I was able to receive CBS, ABC, NBC, CW and PBS out of Buffalo (some transmitting from nearly 100 miles away) with the strongest signals I have recorded in over 5 years of checking. My Samsung was able to tune ABC and CBS for the first time ever - I added 7 more channels to it in my scan.

  • Finally, I paired the DB8e with my Mini-State. It performed better than the 4228HD on all channels. This last arrangement is the only true "apples-to-apples" test; the DB8e replacing my 4228HD. Sometimes the difference was marginal, but with OTA reception, marginal can mean the difference between watchable and unwatchable. For my Samsung TV, it was the difference between being able to tune in several channels and not being able to see them at all.

  • Geeky-detail on this: My logic is going to get technical here, so bear with me. HD signals broadcast in the US on the UHF frequency. In Canada, we mostly use UHF, but some are still on VHF. Since the DB8e is designed to target UHF only (and logically, I might add) it did miss a few channels in the Greater Toronto Area still on VHF. Many of these are set to migrate to UHF stations in the next few months, but for now, I wanted the greatest amount of coverage. 



The Lifetime (lifetime!) Warranty card that comes with the BD8e.



Strengths:
  • Strong build & high overall quality. A product that looks like it can handle Canadian winters.
  • A good company/website backing the product. As a company, Antennnas Direct seems to be actively doing research into new designs. Their website has tonnes of detail and is a haven for anyone seeking parts and know-how.
  • Fantastic reception. Some of my channels saw as much as a 20% signal strength increase. If you live very far away (e.g. 110kms/70miles) from a transmitter, this could be your only hope (rural Canada, take note).
  • Multi-path aiming, great for places where your signal may be coming from more than one location. Toronto (CN Tower/Buffalo), Vancouver (Vancouver/Seattle) and Montreal (Montreal/Burlington) are all large, Canadian centres where this is likely the case. No need to buy a rotor.
  • Free, HD quality signals for most stuff you are paying to watch through cable or satellite (technically, this a pro for all HD antennas, but it really merits repeating).





 Limitations:
  • That strong build translates to a challenging mount.  You'll want a bit of help putting it up.  But, once it is up, it will likely take a hurricane to bring it down. (Seriously, watch this video if you don't believe me.)
  •  UHF only reception - in the US, not an issue. But, in some Canadian markets, you may have trouble tuning some local stations. Most are scheduled to switch over soon, but check to make sure one of your favourites isn't still an old VHF signal.
  • Aesthetically, any antenna is going to stand out on your roof.  Robin expressed concern about the red plastic connectors on the DB8e. As it lay on our kitchen table, she felt they were a bit of an eyesore. (Robin suggested painting them or covering them with dark tape.)  Thankfully, once up on the roof however, the red practically disappears - or at least blends in with the rest of the antenna.
  • This is still an antenna, not a weather/tree/signal manipulator. I still had bad days during testing when I lost almost all of my US channel reception. Some are over 100 miles away and it was sleeting, hailing and at times, snowing, so I can forgive the DB8e for that.




Our Frugal Verdict:
A Strong Frugal Choice, especially for rural Canadian markets or urban areas where you want to try and get signals from more than one source (so, almost everyone).

I feel the best bang for the buck is a DB8e and a pre-Amp. This will cost you $300 (still way less than a years worth of cable), but it will give you the best payoff.  A DB8e alone is over $200 and the small additional cost of the pre-amp will allow you to truly appreciate all the power it offers. Even with some VHF channel loss, the extra distance and flexibility the DB8e provides will more than make up for the one or two channels that might drop out. 

Edit - February 2014 As per request in the comments - my TV Fool results table:

I typically receive the top 19 channels in the table. I receive 4 "grey" area channels (4.1, 17.1, 7.1, 2.1) which TV Fool describes as "These channels are very weak and will most likely require extreme measures to try and pick them up".



Antennas Direct provided us with this product to review.  All opinions are our own.  



How much is your cable/satellite bill each month?  After the initial purchase of an antenna like the DB8e, how much would you save?



Any questions?  I'd love to help by answering them.



33 comments:

  1. I'm in the US and there are 6 VHF stations within 65 miles. There are places in the US where a UHF-only antenna would not be the best choice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the info - that's good to know.

      Delete
    2. You can always add a small VHF-only antenna such as the YA-7-13

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    3. Here in eastern New York State, we only have a small handful of local stations to begin with. What makes it worse, is that we have 4 channels on VHF! 6,7,12 & 13. Not only that, but 2 of them are ACTUAL UHF stations that CHOSE to take a VHF position after the DTV switch!
      Ch.23 moved to Ch.7 and Ch.51 moved to Ch.13 This area is heavily cabled...and/or "dished".

      Delete
    4. Wow, I thought Canadian stations were the only ones making weird choices like that. Nice to hear we're not alone. I imagine the geography (Adirondacks) plays havoc with the reception too. Good for you for keeping the cable cut and staying un-dished. That would not be easy there.

      Delete
  2. Ed,

    When you pair the DB8e with the mini-state, do you run into any multi-path reception issues, given that your TV tuner is receiving (potentially) two conflicting signals for a given frequency (one slightly out-of-phase with the other)?

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My short answer is, I don't think so.
      When I first connected everything, I tested both with the Mini-State and without, and didn't see any severe interference/drop in reception on the UHF channels but did see improvement on the VHF ones. I think during poor reception conditions it might be an issue, and probably merits testing. Some homework for the summer maybe.
      I have considered adding a VHF/UHF combiner and running the mini-state through the VHF side, but it hasn't been a significant enough issue to force my hand.
      Hope that answers your question, albeit in a roundabout, run-on sort of way.

      Delete
  3. Great review! I was just wondering where in the GTA were you testing from?
    I'm in Thornhill and debating if I should get a pre-amp along with this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are west of GTA in Guelph, but similar distance profile, as the crow flies. You have a nice straight shot if you are trying to get US stations (CN tower and Buffalo are in a line from Thornhill) but you'll likely need a pre-Amp. If you just want Canadian stations, the Antenna alone should do it. Good Luck,

      Delete
  4. I really enjoyed reading your review, Ed. I live in urban South Guelph. I am wondering how many channels on a regular basis, I would get with that antennae. What channels do you normally get?

    Mike

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the question Mike, I am north of you, and your elevation is likely better, but other factors like trees and buildings could influence reception too. Here are my channels:
      Reliably: CBC, CTV, Global, CTS, City, TVO, CW, PBS, CH.
      Less reliably (evenings and clear days): ABC, CBS, NBC ( I'm watching the Bears- Steelers Sunday night game right now).

      So, no specialty channels, but most major network programming. Hope this helps,

      Delete
  5. Hi Ed, I recently moved to Moffat (southeast of Guelph). I have an old style antenna already attached to a tower & would like to hook it up to my old school tv. Plus I'm renting & don't want to spend a ton of money on installations etc..Do you think I will get reception with it or is it better to invest in the one you're recommending? I am considering purchasing a flat screen LED tv but for now I have no tv & would like something. Also can you recommend someone to install to my tv?
    Any help is greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Jen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jen, you'll need a digital converter box which range in price for $40 to $60 (for what you are doing, don't pay more than that - Canadian Tire sells them). Then you just plug the cable from the antenna into the box, which then plugs into your old TV. Voila, old TV is viable again. As for installers in Guelph... try asking at Neutron Electronics on Woodlawn - if there is anyone doing that type of work, they'll know. Good luck and thanks for the comment.

      Delete
    2. Alternatively, Save and Replay sells and installs, and may be an option if you feel like a short drive:
      http://www.saveandreplay.com/contact.asp

      Delete
  6. Hi Ed,

    Could you tell me which channels are broadcasting in VHF? I think it is only CTV out of the big networks. Am I right?
    Also, I live in upper Richmond Hill and I am planning to get the DB8e and install it on my roof. What can I expect?
    Thanks for the great review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To the best of my knowledge, only CTV2 is using VHF. Regular CTV broadcasts on UHF in HD.

      As for what to expect in Richmond Hill- here is one of my favourite resources:
      http://www.remotecentral.com/hdtv/

      The other you can try is TV Fool:
      http://www.tvfool.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29

      Both will show you directions (which will help in your antenna mounting and aiming) and TV Fool will give you a sense of what might and might not come in, stengthwise. May help you make a choice around whether or not to buy a signal amp too.

      Hope this helps, Francisco and thanks for reading.

      Delete
  7. Hi Ed! I love your style and sense of humour! Marry me? (oh..wait..too late) Ok..now about this antenna, I gather it comes with a pole mounting kit that screws directly into the roof? Or brick clad side of house? Or is that an extra part to buy. Also. what is this pre-amp and does it sit beside your TV? What if you have 2 tvs? Do you run 2 cables from a multi-distributer type thing? Sorry about the complete lack of knowledge here. :) jackie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to know I entertain - I think my humour is best in small does like blog posts. The students in my business classes don't laugh nearly as often as I think they should...

      Anyway, answers to your actual questions - yes you need a pole to mount the antenna on - there are a wide variety, but the simplest could mount directly on the side of your home. They range in price, but are generally not too bad - some examples:
      http://overtheair.saveandreplay.com/OTA_Mounts.asp

      As for the preamp - it typically has parts that mount both outside near the antenna and inside for power. They are a little more costly (as I mentioned in the post) but do increase the reliability - especially if you are going to split the signal to multiple TVs. Preamps:
      http://overtheair.saveandreplay.com/OTA_PreAmps.asp

      And you can split the signal after it arrives inside your house, so you don't need to have multiple cable runs outside. I have a 4 way splitter in my basement, even though we only have 2 TVs hooked up.

      Hope that covers all the bases for you, but please post again if you have more follow-up questions. Be careful with the marriage proposals though... I think my wife reads this blog once and awhile.

      Delete
  8. LOL! Ok. exnay on the proposalay. Crap. I can't even pass pig latin. Thanks so much for that information, Ed. NOw to order all the bits and try to coax the partner onto the second story roof! Before the snow and the reindeers. Much obliged! :) jackie

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  9. I bought db8e and got it all setup. i was excited thinking i will get american channels like abc nbc etc... but got none of them. just got the local canadian channels. the signal is strong so i am happy about that but i m not sure i should keep this as it is expensive and it only picked up the local channels. i am located in hamilton based on tvfools site i should get american channels. i rotated the antenna in all directions and tested but had no luck getting any american channels. any tips or advice would be great. thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hamilton should get US reception (based on proximity), but your elevation plays a factor as well. Based on my limited Hamilton geography knowledge - Toronto/CN tower are likely visible whether you are up or down the "mountain", but is it possible the escarpment is acting as a wall for your US reception? Line of Site really matters - I have had friends locally who could not get the same channels I could do the hills in our area.

      Try reading some of the forums at Digital Home
      http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=36535
      The link above is for Hamilton/Dundas area and you can likely find someone with a similar location to yourself. The forum goes back almost 10 years now and is where I first started reading for ideas.

      Secondly, did you also invest in an amplifier? My results improved dramatically when I added a Pre-Amp, however, you shouldn't spend more money until you are certain that your location isn't the issue - getting your antenna up as high as possible may solve the problem. You may have to also aim both sections of the DB8e at Buffalo to maximize your reception, at least till you figure out what works.
      I hope you can get it sorted out before it gets really cold - you don't want to be out on your roof in a blizzard. Let me know how it works out and thanks for the question.

      Delete
  10. Good review! We are located at Major Mack & Markham Rd (northeast Markham area). Someone told me it would be best to get the db8e and db4e to maximize reception from Toronto and Buffalo. What do you think?
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every area is different, but given the CN tower and Buffalo are pretty much in a straight line due south of your area, you would likely be better off with just a db8e, but spend the extra to get an amplifier and roof mounting hardware. Try doing a TV-Fool search on your location to see what they suggest as far as channel reception goes as well. Thanks for reading and I hope that helps,

      Delete
  11. Well I read your piece..lol honestly I understood only about half..I have been using ota with a very cheap outdoor hd antenna..cost me all of $19.99 and $5 for the mounting bracket...I live on the 12th and top floor of my building (directly west facing) in the Scarborough area of the gta. I get many, many, channels and most are consistent..however pbs is rather shaky only coming in sometimes..I was wondering if an amplifier would help boost that signal ? And if I could use it with my current equipment ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds about right for your height and how close your are to the CN Tower/GTA area transmitters. The DB8e is meant for us living outside the urban centres.

      Do you get many other US stations with your $20 special or is it just intermittent PBS? You likely could run it through an amp, but even the cheapest is more money than the current antenna you're using.

      You could take your current one in to Save and Replay (http://www.saveandreplay.com/), tell them what's up and see what they suggest. Or just celebrate the fact that you get pretty great reception already and it cost you about half of what everyone else pays monthly for cable. Nice Work!

      Delete
    2. I use a pair of cheapie yagis' one pointing at the CN Tower and the other offset by 90 degrees pointing close to Grand Island, New York, they are mounted on the same pole approximately one meter vertically apart. I was wondering whether a DB8 would improve reception enough to make it worth while or whether a generic DB8 work alike would be as good.

      Delete
  12. Folks.. there's one other important thing you need to do if you go with an OTA TV Antenna reception solution. You must ground the antenna mast and the coax cable. This is a simple procedure. Simply run a ground wire from the mast to a grounding block through which runs the coax cable as well. The grounding wire is then connected to an 8 foot copper rod which is pounded into the ground. You can also use two 4 foot rods connected together via the grounding wire. The coax cable passes thru the grounding block then on into the house and the TV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed - in my previous "How-To" post, I think I talked a bit about grounding, but it may have been overlooked. I have a block in place connected to my copper plumbing for grounding on my system. I did run it for a few years (maybe a decade?!) without and finally decided to stop dodging the bullet and do it.
      Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  13. how do you know which channels you would receive if you went with an antenna system?do you get only a few channels or do you get a good variety of channels?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can check out the table I just added at the end of the post above and go to www.tvfool.com to drop in your own address and see your own results.

      They colour code the stations to give you an idea of what might work for you. Just like a stop light - Green means go (an indoor antenna will likely work) all the way to red - meaning a rooftop antenna, and finally grey - meaning rooftop antenna and a clear line of sight and a clear day.. and maybe a prayer. I get 4 grey area channels with my amplified DB8e.

      Delete
  14. Can you share your tvfool results?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question - I just added an image showing an abbreviated version of their overall results page. I get 4 channels listed as Grey Area: These channels are very weak and will most likely require extreme measures to try and pick them up.

      Delete

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